Thank you to those who got in touch with me and who overwhelmingly supported an audio recording of my letters.
I thought I could embed the recording in this post but I can’t, so… the recording + a little Mind Marginalia will be posted the Monday following the Sunday that a letter goes out.
This week’s recording + Mind Marginalia will be posted tomorrow, November 9, 2020.
Around 7 a.m. on August 15, 2020, my husband ate part of a plain bagel and drank half of a yellow Gatorade (the worst flavour, and brand, in my opinion, but his favourite on both counts).
He was wearing his black Adidas running shirt and his black and white Seawheeze running shorts that he got when we ran the race three years ago in Vancouver. A red (his favourite color) hydration backpack was slung over his shoulder and his bright Ciele running cap was tightened over his dark hair.
He, along with the other members of my family (my mother, my father, my sister, my brother-in-law) were all going to run the 21.1km virtual Lululemon Seawheeze half-marathon.
We were in British Columbia, at my parents’ home there. My family had mapped out a course along the highway that saw mountains, and hoodoos, large sprays of pine and fir trees, the gleam of the lake. I was supposed to run too, but I had fallen off an electric scooter two weeks earlier and was unable to run or walk that distance.
I watched from my perch on the couch as my husband swung his lanky arms back and forth. He grinned at me.
“I’m a little nervous,” he said.
He hadn’t run further than about 15km for a few years, but he had been a runner all his life, competitive for a portion of it, and was in infuriatingly good shape. He was saying he was nervous, but I knew he wasn’t really worried.
Before he walked out the front door, I said to him, “Don’t go too hard. Love you.”
At around the 10km turnaround, my family saw him. He was way faster than all of us. They told me that he was laughing and clapping, cheering them on.
My husband made it 20km of the 21.1km before he collapsed by the side of the highway, falling on to a pedestrian bridge installed above a small river. His collapse rendered my words to him that morning the last I would speak to my living husband.
His body was found by a young woman who would call 9-1-1 and start CPR. Two other women would eventually take over for her, and then the emergency responders would take over entirely when they arrived.
When he fell, he was only 1000 metres from the house where I was waiting by the front door, ready to clap for him, a post-run Gatorade at the ready, pink though, because I couldn’t stand to further support the consumption of the yellow. He would have laughed, if he had come back, recognized the joke.
Instead of my husband, though, it was my father who came through the door, calling my name, telling me to get in the car.
“It’s Kurtis,” he said.
I would see the emergency responders from a distance, the up and down jerk of their arms and shoulders as they worked on my husband’s body, though I could only see the EMTs, not him, standing as I was in the middle of the highway, traffic stopped in both directions, talking to the RCMP officer, telling him I was ‘the wife,’ asking what I should do (answer: follow the ambulance, go to the hospital).
“How long have they been doing CPR?” I asked.
“They’re doing everything they can,” the officer responded.
I asked to ride in the ambulance with my beloved, but the officer told me I couldn’t — because of COVID-19, ostensibly, but I suspected this wasn’t true. This was just another way of avoiding saying that my husband was no longer alive.
My sister and my brother-in-law were on the right side of the highway. My sister was sitting down, her whole body shaking.
“I’m trying to brave,” she told me.
My mother was on the right side of the highway too, but she was across the bridge, blocked from my sight at the time by the ambulance, which was on the left, where my husband had fallen.
My father and I got back into the car and followed the ambulance to the hospital. I asked my father the question about CPR that the officer had refused to answer directly.
“How long?” I said.
“A long time,” my father said.
We lapsed into silence. My father looked at me, slightly.
“I know the stats,” I said.
The next time I would speak to my husband, it would be to tell him I loved him, as I identified his body.
I did not know then that the autopsy of my husband’s body would show that his physical form was in perfect condition. His heart, his brain, his other vital organs, all appeared healthy, without any visible defects.
There is still no known or visible reason for him to be dead, except that he is.
The coroner, when she would tell me this, would also tell me that based upon the pattern of injuries inflicted on his body from his collapse, it was evident that he was dead by the time his body struck the bridge.
“He might have had time to think ‘I’m going to pass out,’” the coroner told me. “Or he might have felt woozy, but then he would have been gone.”
I would read later, somewhere on the Internet, that the auditory sense is often the last sense to go.
I like to believe this means my sweet husband would have heard the water as he went, would have heard the sound of the river running below him, water that is still running now, even though he is no longer.
But, I didn’t know any of this when I emailed my therapist a blunt one-liner email from the hospital, after I confirmed with the RCMP officer how my husband’s name was spelled: “Kurtis, with a K.”
Do not grieve alone, my therapist responded right away, because he knew I would be.
He was right.
When I received his message, I was sitting, alone, in the family waiting room of the small, local hospital where my beloved was brought amid the scream of sirens. It was a nice enclave. Windowed on three sides, a view of a brush of fully-fleshed trees and a slight upward slope of green grass. Someone cared for the grass, I thought looking at its even cut, its steady green. There was full sun.
My father had gone to speak with one of the doctors about the logistics of moving my beloved’s body back to Alberta and I was alone, in the little waiting room, because I waved off the well-meaning social workers. One of them was named Amy, which is my name, and this made me angry. I did not want to talk to a self, that was not my self. It was unlikely that social-worker-Amy’s husband had just died. So, I sent her away, this Amy whose husband was still alive, this Amy who had my name, but was not me.
When my father returned, he was holding a tissue, which he set gently in my palm. The white folds relaxed and unveiled my husband’s wedding ring, the slim gold circle that he wore without ever taking it off since the day I slid it on his finger at our wedding, almost two years ago. In fact, it will be our second wedding anniversary on November 11, 2020.
He loved his ring.
He loved being married. After our wedding, he framed our wedding vows, side-by-side, and set all the cards we had received on our dresser, even sticking the Polaroids we took from the wedding upright around the cards. Sometimes, I would find him sitting on our bed, admiring his handiwork.
“Do we really need a wedding shrine?” I asked him.
“Definitely,” he said.
I loved catching him glorying in these little remains of our wedding; it filled me with my own sense of glory, which was always connected to him, to the joy and surety he had in our union.
Other times, I would catch him taking photos of his left hand, encircled by his wedding band.
“I love being a husband,” he would tell me, often.
He had such a capacity to be loved, my husband. It is part of why he loved the ring, and the pictures, and the cards, and the vows so much. He loved to be loved.
This is something I found radiant about him, this ability to accept love, to celebrate its outpouring. Indeed, he was life-giving to love precisely because he soaked it in so richly.
I am not this way, though I want to be.
I often feel unworthy of love — indeed, that my husband loved me as fully and as unwaveringly and as resolutely as he did is one of the most ineffable miracles of my life.
I thought about this miracle, now gone, as I stared at his ring in the folds of the tissue that my father handed to me. I felt deeply grateful that my father had the presence of mind to ask for the ring to be slid off my husband’s finger, and given to me, while also feeling a tearing sense of loss.
“Thank you,” I said to my father, sliding my husband’s ring onto the middle finger of my left hand, where it fit loosely but not unduly so. At this, a shuddering cry rippled up and out of my throat. My father stroked my back while my tears dripped onto the white, flecked tile of the hospital floor.
By this time, I had already called my husband’s parents and told them he was gone.
In a strange, technological twist of terror or perhaps just error, when my father drove me back to the house, and I pulled out my phone and prepared to make more calls, I saw I had a new voicemail.
I pressed Play on it and out of my phone came the thin, wavering sound of my own voice.
I was telling my husband’s parents to pull over.
My husband’s parents were already in their car, driving from the city where they live to the city where my beloved and I live, and I realized, listening to the first three minutes of the five-minute voicemail, that somehow their phone, which was hooked up by Bluetooth to their car speaker, had recorded the call and sent it to me.
I heard, again, my husband’s father scream, first, and then my husband’s mother. I heard my own voice saying I was sorry, but I couldn’t tell them if they were screaming.
I couldn’t finish the recording. I paused it, called others: his siblings; his best friends; his boss; my boss. I texted my friends.
“He’s gone,” I wrote.
After I ran out of numbers to call or text, I walked out the front door of my parents’ house. I was in shock, and a dusky pink sweatshirt, my black and white checkered Vans on my feet — shoes my beloved purchased for me the day after I decided I didn’t really need them.
“What size are you?” my beloved had said.
“Don’t,” I said. “I have so many sneakers already.”
“But you like them,” he said.
The next night, he brought the shoes home to me, smiling as I slid them on my feet.
It was incredibly hot outside, the day he died.
After leaving my parents’ home, I meant to walk to the bridge where my husband’s body had been found, but it was too hot to make it that far, even though that far was only one kilometre. I collapsed, struggling to breathe, beneath the shade of some towering evergreen trees.
I tried to talk to him, but it was like striking tin. He wasn’t there or anywhere. All that surrounded me was heat, shimmering on the pavement in the false illusion of water.
I walked back to the house, sat in the shade on an old tree stump in the backyard.
At the hospital, before my father and I left, with the words of my therapist ringing in my mind—do not grieve alone—I stood in the parking lot and placed a call that went to voicemail. I left a message saying something like, ‘please come get me.’
Hours later, when I was still sitting on the tree stump in my parents’ backyard, I heard car tires crunch the gravel of my parent’s driveway, and there my friend was, come for me.
He had driven over three hours, and I am pretty sure he just walked out of his work shift, went home to shower, and drove out. His hair was still wet.
I had asked an impossible thing—”please, come get me”—and yet, there my friend was.
On the drive back to the city where my husband and I lived, my friend told me all manner of minutiae. We tried music, but neither of us could stand it.
When there was a lapse and I felt the rising swell, I would say, “Tell me something else,” and he would.
We returned to the city near midnight. My parents were just behind us, in their own car. I was unable to articulate to them then that I was afraid if the three of us had gotten into the same car, a car in which my beloved had ridden around in too, the emptiness of my beloved’s seat, and the magnitude of our collective grief, would overwhelm us, drive us off the road.
My friend and I arrived in the city before my parents, so he took me to his apartment where I scream-sobbed into one of his pillows.
At one point, my friend reached out to steady my shaking shoulders, and I startled at the contact—the jarring reminder that I was still present in what was called life.
I was grateful for the touch too, that steady, warm reminder that I was not alone.
In the small hours of August 16, 2020, my friend drove me the final leg of the journey and dropped me off at my parent’s home, where I am writing from, still.
My mother had already prepared the guest bedroom. She had switched on the bathroom light so that the dark was broken by a faint, golden glow, and set an air mattress beside the bed for herself, though I declined this, asking her to sleep beside me in the same bed.
When I woke up half-choking with sadness that first night, and several after that, my mother held my body as it wracked. When I startled awake, mistaking her body for my husband’s, she told me what she could to calm me. When I mistook the sound of the sprinklers’ water on the window as rain and called out for my beloved to close the window — Kurtis, it’s raining — she had my father turn the sprinklers off.
Elsewhere, friends of mine were writing to each other, fielding questions, setting up a phone call brigade that would set my phone buzzing at all kinds of hours, just in case I needed to pick it up, and hear someone’s voice on the other side of the line. Sometimes, I did not answer, other times, I did.
I could see, even in the fog of those first few days, that my therapist was right. It would do no good towards living to be alone. Especially because, with the death of my husband, an old voice had returned, one that I had heard most of my life — though it quieted some when I met my husband.
“YOU ARE ALONE!” this voice proclaimed. “NO ONE WILL LOVE YOU.”
It was such a familiar voice, and cratered as I was (am) by sadness, it felt like it was telling me the truth. Perhaps this is why, in those first few days after my husband’s death, I refused to eat.
“Not without him,” I told my mother, my father, my sister as they offered me all manner of food.
A void began to form in my body where food once belonged. I barely noticed it; eclipsed as it was by the sound of the voice, and the relentless absence of my husband. My husband who always made me delicious food, and who even filmed himself making what he called ‘snackers.’ He would open each video with a greeting, welcoming his viewers (me, and his family) to “Cooking with Kurtis,” pronounced in his voice’s unique cadence, and punctuated by his thumbs which he pointed at his chest with a grin.
He has to come back, I thought in those first few days after his death. He has to come back and make me “something tasty,” as he would say.
But he did not, has not, come back for me (a small part of me wants to say ‘yet,’ but I know there is no ‘yet’).
What did come for me, though, was a stream of flowers, phone calls, FaceTimes, e-mails, e-cards, print cards, text messages, DMs, comments, heart emojis, masked visitors, and gifts of all manner (weighted blankets, books, bath bombs, tea sets, candles, sweatshirts, snacks, lavender, healing stones, letters, poems, food baskets and on). With awe and gratitude, I received each of these persistent but gentle rebukes to the pervasive voice in my head telling me that I was alone and unlovable.
That my husband loved me, that my friends and family, near and far and digital, old and new and known and unknown, love me and told me and are still telling me in all manner of ways is the reason I am still here.
It is such an incredibly lucky thing to be loved by my people in the wake of my husband’s absence, and also to have been loved by my husband, who not only received love openly but gave it unconditionally and with untrammelled ease.
This is why, after four days of refusing to eat, I finally took three bites of a vegan kale Caesar salad. I ate not because I was ready to or wanted to, but because I was compelled to by the sheer force of my friends’ care.
That vegan kale Caesar salad came to me by way of a group of friends that are far-flung, not just from me, but from each other. One is in New York, two are in San Francisco, another is in Los Angeles, and yet another in Atlanta. None of them are in Canada, where I am. The receipts stapled to the food bags that arrived on my parents’ doorstep carefully detailed my lactose intolerance, and my dietary preferences (no tomatoes, plenty of kale, vegan cheese).
The love I am receiving, am lucky enough to be receiving, from so many still overwhelms me with its generosity. Yet, I know my husband would have celebrated it. I know he would have savoured it with a tangible, deeply embodied joy.
I long to tell my husband that he was right.
Sometimes people do just take us in, and love us, choose us, whether we do or do not deserve it.
I long for him to turn to me, smiling — that full, gleaming, sparkling flash in his face — and say with glee, “Did I just hear that? Did you just admit that I’m right?”
I long to tell him the now weary but still faithful bray of my heart, the same thing I said to him almost two years ago, as we held hands beneath sunlight and palm trees and the witness of a judge and our beloveds.
“I love you,” I would say. “I do.”
I do, I do, I do.
As always, if you would like to reach me (I love hearing from you!), you can contact me in two ways:
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